Vinegar Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, and Alternatives

Will Kreznick

A vinegar allergy does not cause the same immune system response as food allergies do. For this reason, people sometimes refer to it as a pseudoallergy. However, it can still cause allergy-like symptoms in some individuals. Vinegar is an acidic solution made by fermenting ethanol or sugar. Ethanol is the […]

A vinegar allergy does not cause the same immune system response as food allergies do. For this reason, people sometimes refer to it as a pseudoallergy. However, it can still cause allergy-like symptoms in some individuals.

Vinegar is an acidic solution made by fermenting ethanol or sugar. Ethanol is the type of alcohol in alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, and spirits. Vinegar contains water, acetic acid, and a small amount of trace chemicals and flavorings.

People often use vinegar as an ingredient for pickling foods, in sauces and salad dressings, or as a way to add acidity to a dish.

You can also use vinegar as a household cleaner, and some traditional medicine practices employ it as a healing remedy (1).

Vinegar is safe for most people when consumed in moderate amounts. However, some people may experience adverse reactions.

This article explains vinegar allergies, how to recognize them, and how to manage them.

Vinegar does not appear to cause the same types of immune system responses that those with food allergies experience (2).

Rather, an intolerance or sensitivity to one of the ingredients or chemical components of vinegar may cause a vinegar allergy.

Though the symptoms of these reactions often mimic true food allergies, they are not quite the same (2, 3).

Some people may refer to these types of reactions as pseudoallergies (3, 4, 5).

The ingredients in vinegar that people may be sensitive to or intolerant of include (2, 6, 7):

  • salicylates
  • histamine
  • sulfites
  • acetic acid

Each of these chemical compounds can cause allergy-like symptoms in some individuals, which can range from mild to severe.

Salicylate sensitivity

Salicylates are types of salicylic acid.

They’re naturally present in some foods and beverages. Manufacturers also use synthetic forms in medications and other products (3, 8, 9, 10).

While salicylates are present in vinegar, the amount may vary depending on the type of vinegar and its ingredients (11).

For most people, salicylates are no cause for alarm. They’re often present in foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and they may even offer some health benefits (10).

However, those with a salicylate sensitivity could experience allergy symptoms after consuming too much of these compounds (3).

Some people also have severe reactions to acetylsalicylic acid — the type of salicylate in aspirin. However, having a reaction to aspirin does not necessarily mean you’ll also be sensitive to vinegar (12).

Histamine intolerance

Histamine is another common compound in food and drinks. It’s likewise naturally present in your body (13, 14).

Histamine has many functions and plays an important role in inflammation, your body’s response to allergens, and your overall immune system (15).

Histamine intolerance is a condition in which histamine is not efficiently metabolized. Scientists still do not fully understand the condition (16, 17, 18).

That said, they believe a number of factors may cause it, including (13, 14, 16, 19):

  • genetics
  • enzyme deficiencies
  • medications
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • gut bacteria
  • dietary intake

Vinegar not only contains histamine but also stimulates your body to release histamine (18).

Thus, individuals with a histamine intolerance may experience an array of side effects, ranging from mild to severe, after eating too much vinegar or other histamine-containing foods (19).

Sulfite sensitivity

Sulfites are chemical compounds that manufacturers sometimes use as food additives to help preserve foods. Some types are also present in cosmetics, medications, and other products (20).

They also occur naturally in some food and drinks — particularly in fermented liquids like wine, beer, and vinegar (20, 21, 22, 23).

Many people can tolerate a moderate amount of sulfites without any difficulty. However, having a sulfite sensitivity means that you may experience adverse side effects after consuming larger amounts of these compounds (20).

Those with asthma or other allergies may be more likely to have a sulfite sensitivity. In fact, many of the symptoms of a sulfite sensitivity mimic those of asthma (6, 7, 20).

Some countries now require foods or drinks that are high in sulfites to state so on the label. Both the European Union and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require products that contain more than 10 ppm (10 mg per kg) of sulfites to be labeled (6).

Acetic acid intolerance

Acetic acid is one of the main byproducts of the fermentation of ethanol or sugars into vinegar. Though the amount may vary, most vinegars contain around 5% acetic acid (24, 25, 26).

Some studies have shown that acetic acid may be responsible for some of the purported health benefits of vinegars, such as their antimicrobial effects and positive effects on blood sugar levels (27, 28, 29).

Some people may be intolerant of acetic acid, although this is not very common (7, 30).

A person is more likely to have an adverse reaction to acetic acid when they encounter the chemical in large amounts (26).

Still, some people may experience side effects after consuming acetic acid in vinegar orally or from direct skin exposure (26, 27).

Summary

Vinegar allergies typically result from a sensitivity or intolerance to one of the following chemical components of vinegar: salicylates, histamine, sulfites, or acetic acid.

The symptoms of a vinegar allergy may vary depending on the underlying cause. The severity might also differ from person to person.

Here are some of the most commonly reported symptoms of a vinegar allergy or intolerance (3, 30, 31, 32):

  • Salicylate sensitivity: asthma, diarrhea, hives, nasal polyps, stuffy nose, feeling swollen
  • Histamine intolerance: abdominal pain, bloating, congestion, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, fast heart rate, feeling full, headache, itchy skin, sneezing
  • Sulfite sensitivity: asthma, diarrhea, hives, itchy skin, nausea, shortness of breath, tightening of the airway muscles, wheezing, stomach pain, tingling sensations
  • Acetic acid intolerance: asthma, hives, stuffy nose

It’s also important to note that consuming or being exposed to large amounts of vinegar may cause side effects like stomach pain or burning of the eyes, throat, and skin. This may even happen among those without a vinegar allergy (26).

Summary

Though not a true allergy, a vinegar sensitivity or intolerance may cause many of the same symptoms as other food allergies. Some of the most common symptoms are asthma, hives, itchy skin, and stomach pain.

Vinegar allergies cannot be cured. However, a qualified healthcare provider can teach you how to manage them.

Furthermore, because people may be reacting to one of multiple compounds in vinegar, vinegar allergies can be especially hard to diagnose.

If you think you may have a vinegar allergy, it’s best to work with a healthcare professional, such as an allergist, physician, or dietitian, to rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms and discuss treatment options.

Oftentimes, managing a vinegar allergy simply means eliminating vinegar from your diet or only using it in small amounts that you can tolerate.

If your allergy is due to a chemical in vinegar, such as salicylates or histamine, you might also have to eliminate some other foods from your diet in addition to vinegar (33, 34).

Unfortunately, that sometimes includes healthy foods, like certain fruits and vegetables (6, 14).

Working with a medical professional to make these kinds of changes to your diet will help ensure that you do so in a safe and healthy way (6).

Summary

A vinegar allergy can be difficult to diagnose. Treatment may simply mean using less vinegar in your diet, or you may need to eliminate vinegar completely. Speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment.

Eliminating plain vinegar from your diet may be easy, but identifying prepared foods and drinks that contain vinegar could be more difficult.

Identifying vinegar

When dining out, it may be especially important to check with a restaurant employee if you think that a food or drink may contain vinegar.

Here are some items that often contain vinegar:

  • pickled foods
  • condiments
  • soups and stews
  • salad dressings
  • sauces and reductions
  • marinades
  • cocktails

This is not a comprehensive list. Many other foods may also contain vinegar. Thus, if you need to eliminate vinegar from your diet, it’s important to closely read ingredient labels to see whether they contain vinegar.

It’s also important to remember that some people with allergies may be able to tolerate small amounts of vinegar without experiencing any side effects.

Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine how much vinegar you can safely consume.

Substitutes

If you have a vinegar allergy, it may be best to eliminate all types of vinegar from your diet. In that case, you may want to try using other ingredients or flavorings instead of vinegar.

Here are a few options for vinegar substitutes:

  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • orange juice
  • grapefruit juice
  • cherry juice
  • grape juice
  • cranberry juice
  • wine
  • tamarind paste

It may be tempting to substitute other condiments like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce for vinegar.

However, some types of condiments might contain vinegar or the same chemical compounds that are causing your vinegar allergy.

That is why it’s important to work with a medical professional to determine safe substitutions for vinegar in your diet. This is the best way to ensure you don’t unknowingly consume vinegar or another allergen.

Summary

It’s best to treat a vinegar allergy under the guidance of a healthcare professional. They can properly diagnose the condition and help you make safe dietary changes to avoid vinegar.

Current research does not show that vinegar causes true food allergies. However, multiple components of vinegar may cause pseudoallergies.

These are sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods that often mimic many of the same symptoms as true food allergies.

Nevertheless, the symptoms of a reaction to vinegar may range from mild to severe. Thus, they could be dangerous or uncomfortable for some people.

If you think you could have a sensitivity or intolerance to vinegar, it’s best to work with a medical professional to properly diagnose and manage the condition.

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